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CEO Minute Article – Optimism: A Positively Essential Business Skill

3 Nov, 2010

CEO Minute Article – Optimism: A Positively Essential Business Skill

Optimism: A Positively Essential Business Skill

Put simply, some people are optimists and others are pessimists. However, optimism isn’t an accident–it’s a skill that can be learned, one that can help us feel better and greatly improve our lives as our business because if we’re not positive, how can we expect our clients to be?

If we could grade life, what would you give yours? Let’s take “Bob” and “Jan” for example:

Bob gives himself an F because his work has been really stressful lately, his closest colleague has just left the company, he was transferred to another department, and he hates himself for the extra 50 pounds he’s carrying.

Bob feels hopeless and his life seems depressing and dark. Every setback reinforces his feelings of pessimism and grim certainty that nothing ever gets better.

On the other hand, Jan has many of the same struggles: her husband just lost his job, seven months after the birth of their first child. In addition to her full-time work responsibilities, she is responsible for her elderly mother, who is becomingly increasingly frail. To make things worse, her company has just announced a restructuring that may result in cutting staff in half. Despite all this, Jan gives her life a strong B+ and knows there are some A+ days ahead.

Unlike the Bob, Jan sees her setbacks as temporary obstacles to overcome. To her, crises are part of life, opportunities for her to gain in wisdom and courage.

Martin Seligman, psychologist and clinical researcher, has spent 25 years studying optimism and pessimism. In his bestselling book, How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, he states that pessimistic thinking can undermine not just our behavior but also our success in all areas of our lives.

“Pessimism is escapable,” he writes. “Pessimists can learn to be optimists.”

Optimism is not just a feel-good strategy. When we focus our attention on our natural character strengths (wisdom, courage, compassion) and all we have, rather than our perceived failures and what we don’t have, we boost not only our moods, but our immune system and success levels as well. Research has shown that optimistic people tend to be healthier and experience more success in life.

To adjust our lives–and the challenges we face–we must first recognize what we say to ourselves when we experience a setback. By breaking what Seligman calls the “I give up” pattern of thinking and changing our interior negative dialogue, we can encourage optimism.

Maria Hebda